About the Book

Book Protagonist: Janie Crawford
Publication Date: 1937
Genre: Coming of Age, Historical Fiction

Themes and Analysis

Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston

‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston carries a range of themes based on the time period within which the book is concentrated on. Among these themes are those bordering on love, desire for freedom, selfhood, and equality - as well as themes on gender roles and racial prejudices.

The reader gets to see the majority of these themes play out in the life of Janie Crawford – who takes up the mantle as the main act in Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’ Zora starts off her adventure as a teenager who is not afraid to be different but returns as a woman who is more experienced with life after having to endure the challenges and hardships across three marriages. The most frontal themes in the book will be discussed.

Love, Acceptance, and Appreciation 

Janie Crawford’s journey in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ begins and ends with her search for a marital relationship where she would share with her spouse true love, be accepted and appreciated by him, and not just see her as just another belonging or property. Unfortunately for the times in which she lives, these qualities are rare in men, and so it takes her three marriages to find something close to these.

A desire for Freedom, Selfhood, and Equality

With Janie entering her first two marriages – first with Logan Killicks and later with Jody Starks – she doesn’t get the freedom to be herself, nor does she enjoy independence or selfhood in the marriage. Talks of equality are even a joke with her first two spouses – who can’t see her being anything more than just a mere housewife, one who has little to no respect, zero decision-making, and zero purposes except the obvious – being a housewife. She can’t settle for such a life and seeks freedom from it, the result of which often ends in her separation from them.

Negative Gender Roles

The social and political clime in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God already has an underlying negative gender stereotype slapped on the women in the book’s reality – in which case they are reduced to playing the role of housewives, not allowed to have a meaningful impact in the decision making of the family while not also allowed to have and pursue their dreams.

Racial Injustice 

Throughout the book, there are bits and pieces of racial conflicts and issues, and although Hurston’s interest is not to focus too much on this subject, it is clearly exhibited by a number of frontal characters like Mrs. Turner.

Key Moments in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’

  1. Janie returns to Eatonville in shabby apparel and without Tea Cake, her husband. 
  2. Ignoring the villagers and their judging eyes, she tells her best friend Phoeby the truth about what had happened to her.
  3. In her story, she takes us back to how her birth mother abandons her, and she’s raised by Nanny, her grandmother. 
  4. Nanny marries her off to Logan Killicks, a potato farmer, twice her age and controlling. 
  5. She leaves him, runs off, and marries Joe Starks for the next 20 years – settling at Eatonville. 
  6. Ambitious Joe gains fame, makes a fortune in business, and becomes the mayor – but still controls and doesn’t allow Janie the independence and support that she needs. 
  7. She leaves him after he beats her following an argument. She doesn’t return until she hears Joe is on his deathbed.
  8. Less than a year after Joe dies, Janie weds Tea Cake and finds the true love and best treatment that she’s always wanted. 
  9. She sells Joe’s investments to go live with Tea Cake in Jacksonville. 
  10. Tea Cake steals her money, runs away, returns back, and apologies. Janie forgives him.
  11. They move to Everglades, make friends, and live happily until a disastrous hurricane blows through their village. 
  12. A mad dog bites Tea Cake, and he falls sick and accuses Janie of cheating. 
  13. Tea Cake gets a gun to kill Janie but is instead killed by her. 
  14. Janie faces a trial for murder but is acquitted on account of self-defense. 
  15. She returns home to Eatonville with the satisfaction of having tasted the kind of freedom and independence her time with Tea Cake exposed her to. 

Style and Tone

Zora Neale Hurston is known to have, as her general writing style, a knack for infusing informal, demotic expressions peculiar to African Americans who dwelled in the South at the time. In ‘Their Eyes We’re Watching God,’ she replicates this style – building her major plots from black folklore while burnishing them with colloquial wit and feminist mentality. In terms of tone, there is a range of variety thrown in by Hurston – with the more prominent tone being that of empathy and affinity, as these are what the author feels towards the events going down around her primary character, Janie Crawford.

Figurative Languages 

Figurative expressions abound in Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God,’ however, some of the commonest found in the book includes – simile and metaphors.  

For simile, the expression below suffices to offer a better depth to the scenario Hurston tried to describe:

‘The morning road air was like a new dress.’

The quote above is one of several expressions of simile opted for by Hurston in her book ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God,’ as she makes further portrays Janie’s positive state of mind after her separation from her first husband Logan Killicks.

Analysis of Symbols in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’

The Chair 

The chair used in Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ represents the class system in the book’s reality, and although this is merely portrayed throughout the book, Janie’s time with the ambitious Joe Starks is essentially more remembered for this.

The Hurricane

The hurricane that hits Everglades, disrupting the lives of its dwellers – Janie and Tea Cake included – connotes the chaos and destruction that unexpectedly happens in life, and it just so happens when the couple is having a nice peaceful life together.

Janie’s Long Hair

Janie’s Caucasian hair is one of her most prized physical attributes that makes her very beautiful and wanted by a lot of her male suitors.


Does Janie Crawford ever get to see her mother in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’?

Sadly, the book’s protagonist, Janie Crawford, doesn’t get to see her mother, Leafy, a troubled and traumatized woman whose readers are to flee from home shortly after Janie’s birth. 

What is the predominant theme in Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’?

The search for selfhood and true love are among the frontal themes of Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ as it tells the story of a young woman who ventured across three marriages in search of true love and freedom to achieve her passions. 

What writing style does Hurston use in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’? 

Zora Neale Hurston mostly deployed a combination of three styles: standard English, southern colloquial wits, and black American vernacular for her writings – which were a lot of times based on black people’s experiences through slavery and the civil war. 

What does Janie’s long hair symbolize?

Janie’s long hair represents her beauty and is the object of attraction for most men. She takes pride in them and wants to show them off to the world any chance she gets.

What is the tone of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’?

The book’s tone is generally of empathy and understanding, as the narrator is quick to argue in her defence and share her sentiments. 

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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